The Mistress of Tall Acre

By: Laura Frantz

“I’ll not forget.” For a rare moment Glynnis turned wistful. “’Twas always in spring when she’d spread her first tea in the garden beneath the rose arbor, a signal that it was warm enough for you and Curtis to go barefoot. And then again in autumn right before the weather turned. She always seemed to know somehow when things were about to change.”

The arbor was overgrown now, the roses mostly lost to disease. Perhaps with a little care, she could coax them back to life come spring. Sophie plunged ahead, away from the past. “I’ve set a little molasses by, enough to sweeten our biscuits. I’ll even lay a fine linen tablecloth, some of Mama’s Wedgwood china—”

“What little the redcoats didn’t destroy, you mean.”

“Surely there’s something left. I even spied a few late-blooming roses for a bouquet.”

Glynnis made a face. “Perhaps it won’t be such a flop after all. Henry’s just brought round a crock of cream.”

“Oh?” The mention made Sophie frown. Henry’s habit of collecting things was uncanny. Though she’d never say so, she feared he was meirleach. A fine thief.

Glynnis seemed to read her thoughts. “He traded it for some pheasant he shot, he said, though I wonder.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “His eyesight is so poor and he’s deaf as a post . . .”

“Well, neither of you have drawn wages since the war began, so anything you’re inclined to do is welcome.”

But stolen or otherwise?

Lord, forgive us.

“Well, this is our home nearly as much as yours. Three Chimneys has kept us fed and a roof o’er our heads, even if it’s a leaky one.” Eyeing the nearly empty porcelain teapot, Glynnis muttered, “I wonder how the general came by such fine tea?”

“Really, Glynnis. Given he’s just conquered England, I’m not surprised.”

“Ha!” Glynnis sputtered. “You make it sound like he won the war single-handedly!”

Sophie’s skin crawled with warmth. Was her admiration so obvious—and ridiculous? “All I’m saying is that he has connections. And now that the war’s over, trading can resume.”

“I must say ’tis good to have a young man about again, especially with rocks being hurled through parlor windows.”

“Young?” Sophie began fanning the chestnuts with her apron. Seamus Ogilvy was nigh on thirty, at least. “I wouldn’t call the general young.”

“Young or no, he’ll have his hands full returning Tall Acre to its former glory, and no mistress to boot, just a motherless child.”

Sophie held her peace and poured the remaining tea, breathing in its intoxicating fragrance and wishing for a little loaf sugar.

A question rose in Glynnis’s eyes even as a smile hovered. “You wouldn’t, by any chance, have designs on the general by way of his little daughter?”

Sophie set the kettle down so hard the table rattled. “Glynnis! You make the situation sound so—conniving!” A sick feeling swirled in her belly. Is that what Seamus Ogilvy thought? She prayed not. “The truth is I’m lonely. I’ve always loved children. We’ve had no merriment at Three Chimneys for ages, even if it is a humble tea party.” Other than Reverend Hopkins and his wife, they’d had no visitors at all save a beggar or two they’d fed in the kitchen. “Don’t you dare think I’m glaikit enough to set my sights so high. There are plenty of wealthy widows from the war, not to mention wealthy spinsters. Even if I did have designs on him, he’d never consider the penniless daughter of a Tory.”

“Tories aside, there are no wealthy widows or spinsters on hand who show an interest in his daughter. And he hardly needs a rich wife. Young and virile as he is, any warm, willing one will do—”

“Glynnis, please.” Though Sophie set her jaw, the storm inside her threatened to break.

“Call me a matchmaker if you will, but I’ve always had your matrimonial interests at heart. And I’ll forever begrudge heaven for allowing a war to steal away your best prospects. You were the belle of Williamsburg once.”

“’Twas long ago. What’s done is done.” Sophie moved beyond herself and her stack of regrets, recalling the general’s ravaged hand. “We’ve all made sacrifices, every one.”

They fell silent, each locked in thoughts too personal to share. Canny Englishwoman that she was, did Glynnis really believe Sophie was smitten? If so, she’d attempt to dispel that notion all she could.

Thinking it left her feeling steamy as the tea.

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